The Zambezi National Park Hyena Project
Over the past few years ALERT has been conducting an occupancy survey of five large predator species (lion, wild dog, spotted hyena, leopard and cheetah) within Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA). This is the first survey of its kind to be conducted within the Park and the results have contributed to understanding the population dynamics of these predators. The survey has provided baseline data for each species from which species specific research programmes can now be initiated to monitor individual species within this Park in greater depth.
The occupancy survey highlighted a widespread population of spotted hyena in the Zambezi National Park, whilst anecdotal evidence of spoor recruitment into the juvenile age class of the Park’s ungulate population is hypothesized to be due to predation by a large spotted hyena population.
To launch the Zambezi National Park Hyena Project a call-up survey was conducted to begin to assess the population density for spotted hyena. Eight call-up stations were baited and sounds of a buffalo calf in distress, spotted hyenas mobbing lions, inter clan fights between spotted hyena and hyenas competing on a kill were played at each station to attract the predators. Over the two nights of this survey ALERT researchers observed 2 lions, 39 spotted hyenas and 4 wild dogs. Two lions also responded to the call-up by roaring although they did not come to the bait during the playback period.
Under a permit issued by the ZPWMA ALERT’s CEO, Dr. Norman Monks, has collared one female hyena, and our research team has commenced tracking has already confirmed a den site. Further hyena will be collared in the future for this programme which is expected to last at least 3 years.
About the Zambezi National Park Hyena Project
Large mammal carnivores play an important role in maintaining a balance between the ungulate population and the environment. However, when carnivore numbers increase, certain age classes of the ungulate population can be negatively affected. Spotted hyena, contrary to popular thought, do hunt extensively and predate mainly on the juvenile age class, although they will also take down adult animals. Spotted hyena are the most common and abundant large mammal predator in many African ecosystems. In Zambezi National Park and surrounding areas it has been reported that there is little recruitment into the juvenile age class in the large ungulate population and it is hypothesized that this is due to a large spotted hyena population. In addition, reports have been received that hyena are significantly involved in livestock predation in nearby human-populated areas. To date no studies have been carried out on spotted hyena in the area and this study will look at the population dynamics of this species in the areas mentioned to obtain population size, population dynamics, recruitment, home-range, prey preference and interaction with livestock. The interaction between lions and hyena will also be studied as these two species are major competitors and are known to limit population growth within their populations. This study will be undertaken as a joint project between the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust and is expected to last at least three years. At the end of the study management recommendations will be presented to ZPWMA.